Get to Know Hal's St. Paddy's Grand Marshal: Cassandra Wilson

Proud to call Jackson her home, Cassandra Wilson is regarded as one of the most versatile jazz singers of the modern age.

With a career spanning more than three decades, Wilson has earned critical acclaim and a loyal following for her soulful, sophisticated, and adventurous approach to jazz. On Saturday, March 25th, she is proud to join the leagues, krewes, and floats of fellow Jacksonians as Hal's St. Paddy's Parade and Festival's 40th Grand Marshal. Read on to learn more about one of the City With Soul's pioneers of soul.

Cassandra Wilson
Credit: Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

Early Life

Born in Jackson, Wilson grew up in a musical family. Her father, Herman Fowlkes Jr., was a jazz guitarist, bassist, and music teacher; and her mother, Mary McDaniel, was an elementary school teacher who earned her Ph.D. in education. Her mother's love of Motown and her father's career exposed her to a wide variety of music early on, from gospel to blues to Motown and jazz. Wilson began playing piano at age six and guitar as a preteen and was singing professionally by the mid-1970s. She attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before moving to New York in the 1980s, where she became one of the founding members of the M-Base Collective.

“The city of Jackson, Hinds County, and the state of Mississippi shaped who I am,” Wilson says. “I was born at St. Dominic Hospital and reared here alongside our crossroads of musical influences. And all of that comes to play inside my music.”

Professional Career

Wilson's breakthrough came in 1993, with the release of her album "Blue Light 'Til Dawn" with Blue Note Records. The album was a departure from the American Standard songbook, featuring a mix of jazz, blues, folk, and world influences. It was a critical and commercial success, earning Wilson a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Performance and introducing her to a wider audience.

Since then, Wilson has continued to push the boundaries of jazz, weaving elements of funk, soul, and country into her music. She has released more than 20 albums, working with a diverse range of musicians and exploring a wide variety of styles and genres. Her music is marked by her distinctive voice, which has a warm, earthy quality, and her ability to infuse even the most familiar songs with new depth and meaning.

One of the hallmarks of Wilson's music is her willingness to take risks and experiment. She is not afraid to take on challenging material, such as the songs of Hank Williams and Joni Mitchell, and to approach it in her unique way. She is also known for her improvisational skills, which allow her to take a song in unexpected directions and create new and exciting musical moments.

In addition to her career as a singer, Wilson is also a composer, bandleader, and producer. She has collaborated with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Bill Frisell & Elvis Costello, and The Roots, and has performed at some of the world's most prestigious venues, including the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Jazz Legacy

Wilson's contributions to jazz have been recognized with numerous awards and accolades, including multiple Grammy Awards and nominations and an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music. But perhaps her greatest legacy is the way she has expanded the possibilities of jazz, bringing new audiences to the music and inspiring a new generation of musicians in Mississippi and beyond.

“There are so many beautiful places all around Mississippi, and I think we take it for granted,” Wilson says. “I've traveled around the world twice and talked to everybody three times. There's no place like home for me. There's nothing that compares to the beauty that we have here. And it's not just the geographic beauty. It’s the spirit of who we are as the Hospitality State.”

Cassandra’s Top Places To Visit in Jackson

In-town for the parade? Stop by some of Wilson’s tried-and-true Jackson gems.

Sylvia’s Restaurant & Lounge

“Sylvia’s is an iconic place here for soul food and chitterlings.”

Bully's Soul Food Restaurant

“Bully’s has the best blackberry cobbler in town.”

Hal & Mal’s

“Aside from the parade, I love going to Hal & Mal’s on Blue Mondays to listen to live music. It’s a classic.”

Anne Marie Hanna


Anne Marie Hanna

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